The second largest cookie producer in Latin America, Grupo Mabel of Goias, Brazil, has reinvented the ancient delicacy and has indeed become a household name at snack time for families around the world. Helen Larkin takes a look at the story behind the incredible Mabel flavors.
Grupo Mabel’s long list of products can be found on any family shopping list throughout Brazil. From traditional cookies to new snack brands to diet foods for the health-conscious, Mabel has invented a product to suit any taste. The company, based in the state of Goias, Brazil, exports its products worldwide, and just celebrated its 55th anniversary at the top of the Latin American snack sector.
WHEN IN DOUBT, BAKE
As with many great success stories, that of Grupo Mabel began with a little pragmatism, a few people with nothing to lose, and a dose of good fortune. “Mabel was created over 50 years ago by two Italian brothers, Nestore and Udelio Scodro, who had left Italy for Brazil in search of work,” recounts Vicente Barros, Mable’s vice president. “Our founding is really a classic story. Nestore and Udelio were assembling ovens in the city of Sao Paulo, and had hit a wall. They couldn’t find one client to sell their product to, so there they were, stuck with this oven they had put together. They did what seemed logical at the time, and made a batch of cookies.” And there began the empire.
“The first Mabel product, the Mabel Rosquinha, came from a recipe that had gained popularity in Pavezzi, Italy,” says Barros. “The brothers traveled there and sought out the recipe, which was originally based on almonds, but they would adapt it to Brazil’s flavors and replace the base with coconut.”
They first packaged the Mabel Rasquinha in servings of 800 grams. Right off the bat, the cookies gained popularity across Brazil and were hailed at being less costly but still offering great quality. The cookies were first available only on roadside stands, where they would quickly sell out to passers by. Soon enough, they were sold in markets and supermarkets. Eventually Mabel products were highly sought after in stores, and the company had to make the decision to print the price on all packages, so as to avoid mark-up abuses. The practice was heavily protested by many vendors, but stood as a clear indication of Mabel’s success, and the need to assume more top-down control over the product.
The brothers soon left the city for Riberao Preto, a smaller town in the interior of Sao Paulo, and there founded the SIPA, or Sociedade Industrial de Produtos Alimenticios, which would become the CIPA (Companhia Industrial de Produtos Alimenticios, or the Industrial Company of Food Products) in 1963. It would become incorporated much later, in 1996, as Holding NE Participacoes. The company would soon change its name to Mable, after that famous cookie from Italy.
Mabel built its first factory in Riberao Preto once the brothers landed there in 1962. It was there that the company began churning out a modest production of a maximum of 500 kilos of cookies daily. When 1975 came around and the cookie company was approaching productive capacity in Riberao Preto, they opened an industrial park in Aparecida de Goiana, state of Goias, which has since been greatly expanded.
As the 1970s drew to a close, Mabel was ready to open its third factory, located in rented facilities in Parada de Lucas, state of Rio de Janeiro. This factory would later be moved to Duque de Caixas, also in Rio de Janeiro state.
55 YEARS STRONG
Mabel is still in great part a family company. Sandro Mabel, son of Nestore Scudro and Mabel’s President of Conselho, was allowed to help out at the company when he turned 13 years old, as an administrative assistant. Throughout his lifetime he has held many varied positions at Mabel, working his way up to becoming president. “In 2006,” begins Barros, “the family decided to bring in a market professional to complement the company and serve as president. It was only at this point that the founding family removed itself from the day-to-day operations it had overseen for 50 plus years.”
Today, Mabel has just celebrated its 55th anniversary. And the thriving company has much to celebrate. With 105 brands available and domination of the Brazilian market, Mabel has become a household name and, in fact, a kitchen staple. “Our product is unrivaled in Brazil – there’s just no compassion available,” says Barros. “We also export our products to 25 countries worldwide. Currently, with the Brazilian currency on the rise and the comparative weakness of the dollar, our percentage of sales that are exported is as low as 5 percent. But this is always shifting with the market.”
Mabel’s productive capacity has greatly increased, as the company has built five different facilities strategically distributed across Brazil in five distinct regions, so as to best respond promptly and efficiently to the many demands of the domestic market. All plants are equipped with the latest and most high-end equipment.
The facilities, located in the states of Goias, Mato Grosso do Sul, Rio de Janeiro, Sergipe, and the most recent addition of a plant in the southern state of Santa Catarina in 2000, are able to attend to the distinct needs of Brazil’s diverse regions and economies. Five processing units are devoted exclusively to cookie production, one houses a wheat mill, and one is devoted to a flexible type of packaging. The packaging plant has undergone three large periods of expansion, and is currently incorporated into Cepalgo, or Goias Cellulose and Papers.
Mabel manages 20 percent of its own distribution with its own fleet of 30 trucks, which transport the final product as well as raw material and ingredients regionally between some of the five Brazil facilities. The majority of transportation needs, however, are outsourced to Mabel representatives throughout the vast country.
Mabel, one of six cookie manufacturers in Brazil but second in production scale in Latin America, currently maintains a productive capacity of 1,500,000 cookie packages per day. As with all leading food suppliers, Mabel is concerned first and foremost with the quality of its ingredients. All raw materials undergo a rigorous selection process. Today, the product line includes over 150 varieties of not just Mabel Rosquinhos but crackers, milk cookies, cornstarch cookies, Maria cookies, chocolate cookies, wafers, snacks and potato chips.
“We have a product to fit everyone’s taste,” explains Barros. “From corporate catered affairs to school lunches to ladies’ teas, there is a Mabel product suited for every event and circumstance.” Greatly expanding its product line to keep up with the latest trends in health and nutrition, Mabel now puts out entire lines of low-and non-fat, trans-fat free, and light cookies and wafers.
“Due to increased investment in marketing we focused on in 2006, we have experienced tremendous growth in the past few years – we are up 20 percent since just last year,” says Barros. “As we follow-through with plans of increased expansion into new sectors, we plan to utilize our tried-and-true framework to maintain this extraordinary growth rate in the new sectors.” One new endeavor of note is Mabel’s recent production of “torradas,” or the packaged toast popular throughout Brazil.
Mabel takes corporate responsibility as a serious and deep commitment, and is active in many social undertakings all over Brazil. From cultural events, to schools, to lectures and public partnerships, Mabel reaches out to all communities in its surroundings. Mabel is no stranger to the community – the communities surrounding the Mabel facilities have all taken part in one of the company’s various events at some point. At last year’s “Carnival Warm Up”, which took place a few months before the country’s famous festivities, Mabel put on a concert in Goiana. It was truly a community event, and quite well attended.
Mabel operates its own charitable organization – the Nestore Scodro Foundation, named for one of the company’s founders. A major triumph of the foundation’s work has been the development of a Mabel Housing Unit in 1987. Built for the company’s employees who are not homeowners, the drive behind the project is to assist in the savings of capital to become homeowners within three years. Today there are 230 residences in the unit, home to 210 Mabel families. In 1999, the foundation decided to expand the services even further, and inaugurated the Educational Center Pequenos Mabellinos, a day-care center with five staff who are able to care for 43 of the residents’ children.
As an added benefit to its employees, Mabel runs a school for their children. For employee health and safety while on the job, the Mabel facilities include a vast “relationship center,” which features gym classes, libraries, leisure rooms, and extensive healthcare options. The company is also a big proponent of giving its employees due recognition of hard work. This is the “secret to Mabel’s management.” Every year the company holds banquets that feature and reward Prominent Employees of the Year, where outstanding employees are honored not just by Mabel management, but by community stakeholders such as the local Industrial and Trade Board.
Mabel also plays a large part in promoting health throughout its communities. In a partnership with Sesi in Aparecida de Goiania, Mabel frequently hosts lectures on a wide range of health topics. Such activities have further promoted the company’s position within its network and helped it to attain a leading spot in Brazil’s cookie industry.